Sewer rates to rise in Trumbull
By RENEE FOX
WARREN — Sewer rates are going to rise for at least 13,000 households and businesses in at least 14 different communities, and — depending on how Trumbull County commissioners handle the upcoming changes — the increase could affect an additional 7,800.
Trumbull County has two sewer districts.
In order for the Metro District to perform in the black, rates there would have to rise from $6.66 per 1,000 gallons treated now to $9.66 in June, and to $11.93 in 2020.
But the rate needed in Mosquito Creek District could actually go down, from $5.75 per 1,000 gallons treated now to $3.75 in June and to $5.67 in 2020, according to data released by the Trumbull County Sanitary Engineer’s Office.
Or commissioners could combine the districts in order to spread the costs over more customers to reduce the steep impact — a near doubling of the rates in the Metro District.
There are 13,186 customers in the Metropolitan District, which includes parts of Liberty, Champion, Brookfield, Mineral Ridge, Lordstown, Howland, Kinsman, Warren Township, Weathersfield, Hubbard, Newton, McDonald, Vienna and Bazetta, according to information provided by the Trumbull County Sanitary Engineer’s Office.
There are 7,883 customers in the Mosquito Creek District, which includes parts of Bazetta, Vienna and Howland.
Most of the sewage from the Metro District is treated through contracts the county has with other communities that have treatment plants. Depending on the location of a customer, the flow is sent to a plant in either Warren, Niles, Girard, Youngstown, Sharon, Kinsman, Brookfield or Hubbard.
Sewage in the Mosquito Creek District is treated at its own county-owned plant.
An average customer is billed for about 4,500 gallons a month, said Gary Newbrough, deputy sanitary engineer. In the Metro District, the average cost is about $32 per month. If the rate is increased to $11.93, the average user’s bill would increase by about $24 per month to about $56, Newbrough said.
If the districts were combined, all of the more than 20,000 county sewer customers would pay a rate of $7.10 in June, which might increase to around $9 per 1,000 gallons in the next few years.
If that were to happen, customers in the Metro District would pay about $10.50 more per month than they do today, and customers in the Mosquito Creek District would pay about $14 more per month than they do now.
In communities like Howland, if the districts aren’t combined, that means someone living on one side of the township could be paying more than twice the amount for sewage treatment than another resident.
But Darlene St. George, Howland township administrator, said it wouldn’t “be fair” to increase the rates on those in the Mosquito Creek District because of the Metro District’s problems.
It is unclear how many counties have multiple sewer districts instead of just one with equal rates across the board.
Part of the problem with the Metro District’s rates, is the district doesn’t have plants of its own to treat sewage, except in Kinsman and Brookfield, so it has to rely on the costs set by Warren, Niles, Girard, Youngstown, Sharon and Hubbard.
A contract just negotiated with Warren was approved by county commissioners is expected to cost the district an additional $1.68 million per year.
And, the district lost one of its largest customers, General Motors Corp., which is expected to cost it $975,000 per year.
The Metro District has been operating in the red for at least three years.
“Although it has been operating in the red for the past three years, there were surplus funds available to absorb the losses. We started 2016 with a fund balance of $3,873,784 and ended 2018 with a fund balance of $3,160,467,” Newbrough said.
The Mosquito Creek District has been operating with a surplus.
“Since 2011, the county has been accumulating the surplus funds to put toward the next upgrade, which will cost up to $35 million when you include engineering and project administration. The district has already provided $6 million to decrease the principal on the long-term debt,” Newbrough said.
Plant upgrades in and out of the district that the county has obligations to support financially will also cost the district money.
In order to prevent the district’s customers from being “held hostage” in future negotiations with cities that want to raise rates on the district, the county is exploring building its own plants, said county Engineer Randy Smith.
“If we build a plant, we have more control of the future. If we keep relying on someone else, we don’t have that control,” County Commissioner Frank Fuda said.
But “this will not change the short-term financial impact,” Smith said at a recent meeting with community leaders in the Metro District.
It is unclear how many plants would be necessary, how much they would cost and what rates customers would pay.
St. George said customers may better support a rate increase if they know the money is going toward a more independent district that isn’t reliant on other communities that can insist on raising the district’s rate for treatment because they know the county has no other options.